Acorn Schoolhouse, Franklin County,
Kansas (thanks, MadameGraffigny)
In 1967, one of the greatest song-writing collaborations was born when Ray Williams of Liberty Records introduced Elton John (Reginald Dwight) to Bernie Taupin. Over the next 45 years - until the present day - the duo has composed countless songs of award-winning quality, including multiple versions of the same songs, as well as sequels to both individual songs and entire albums. They’ve even managed to co-write more than one musical for the stage.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John’s 1973 masterpiece album (with lyrics penned by Taupin), pays homage in name and cover art to The Wizard of Oz. Lyrically, that’s where the metaphor ends. However, the listeners' imaginations can still find ways to connect the two.
Dorothy Gale, the fictitious heroine from Frank L Baum’s fantasy masterpiece, resides on her aunt and uncle’s farm in (or near) Franklin, Kansas. The very small town lies approximately 60 miles southwest of Kansas City and is located due east of the area of the plains states known as Tornado Alley. In the original and unabridged version of Baum's story, Kansas is specifically mentioned as being "shades of gray," and thus those sequences were shot in a sepia tone for the 1939 film version.
In reality, Kansas is far from gray. Named after the Kansa Indians (meaning people of the wind), the Midwestern state was home to numerous Native American tribes. During the government’s initial opening of the territory to settlers in 1854, there were so many incidents of violence and chaos as abolitionists clashed head-to-head with pro-slavers, the state was nicknamed "Bleeding Kansas." One might say that between the fighting and the Native Americans, Kansas was much more red than gray.
Franklin County, while not really known for being hit by tornadoes, is known for being hit by flooding. In both 1928 and 1951, great floods - 11 inches of rain in just two hours - ravaged the countryside, killed 6 and 41 people respectively, and destroyed acres of cropland. The benefit, however, is how vibrant and fertile that land became after the waters receded again. So by that standpoint, Kansas could also be considered much more blue than gray.
However, Bernie Taupin chose neither blue nor red (nor gray) for his Kansas- (or Oz-) inspired canticle. His color of choice was yellow. Rumored to have been the first film he ever saw, Taupin latched onto the metaphor of the Yellow Brick Road as a symbol of fame and fortune, and the glitz and glamour of the spotlight. He and Sir Elton, while the best of friends and colleagues, differed in the way they handled the entertainment industry. Elton embraced all that the limelight had to offer, but Taupin preferred to remain, in his own words, low-key.
Similar to Dorothy’s journey to the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road has become synonymous with the path people take to fulfill life’s fantasies, the pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow. The concept helped to inspire Taupin and Elton as they created "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Do the lyrics describe a strained relationship betwixt the two, or is the narrator of the song an apparition, a figment of Taupin’s imagination? Take the following lyrics into consideration before answering:
You know you can’t hold me forever, I didn’t sign up with you. I’m not a present for your friends to open. This boy’s too young to be singing the blues.
Maybe you’ll get a replacement, there’s plenty like me to be found. Mongrels who ain’t got a penny, sniffing for tidbits like you on the ground.
Furthermore, the chorus states…
So goodbye yellow brick road, where the dogs of society howl. You can’t plant me in your penthouse, I’m going back to my plough.
At first glance, it seems Taupin wasn’t all thrilled with the setup he’d been thrown into with Elton. Many have speculated the lyrics to GYBR were a cheap shot, digging at the partnership. However, it seems odd that Elton would agree to sing such blatantly offensive lyrics, if those lyrics were, in fact, a personal attack against him. More than likely, the speculation is false and Taupin merely penned some beautifully worded allegory pertaining to the feelings associated with the music industry as well as the fame, fortune, and fluster that goes with it.
~ Justin Novelli
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